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Ghostboy (Rafael Barba)

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Trudging to class was the last thing you wanted to do when your medicine ran out, but you had to. Missing one class would be your downfall because once you missed the first time, you’d be too tempted.

At least, that’s what your Mom told you when you graduated high school. But high school was a long way away, and graduation was looming over your head, the degree and the inevitable job search keeping you up at night.

Almost as much as the medical bills you were going to face after graduation were keeping you up at night. God, so many…

But you had promised your parents, when you came out, that you’d do the whole transition thing on your own… It was somewhat of backhanded support but you worked the summer between your junior and senior year to get the cash to change your name, the bodega hot and smoky, but it was worth it. (Although, it would be nice not to have to bind in New York summer’s, to voice train… To correct people all of the time… but your mother insisted on you being you on your terms, with no help from your parents…)

A larger body bumped into you, jerking you rather painfully from your thoughts of your parents. You gritted your teeth, everything inside of you to light the person a new one, but then you saw his face. He was flushed, eyes heavy-lidded, and his body seemed to wiggle like the ramen you were looking forward to after class. Instead of yelling at him, or apologizing, you surged forward at the same time the man collapsed.

He was shorter than other men you’d encountered, but still taller than you, so catching him was rather hard. You let your satchel hit the ground, not having time to cringe when you heard your laptop screen break, and his body collapsed into yours.

Your back hit a light-pole, the man’s face smooshing against your shoulder as you did your best to hold him up on shaking knees. What could you do? You couldn’t leave him - not in the state he was in. You’d lived in New York for a fair amount of time and you, especially you, knew how dangerous it was for someone to be inebriated or unconscious on the street. Or, well, anywhere. But you had to get to class…

To make matters worse, the sky opened up and decided to let loose the white, fluffy hell that you’d been trying to avoid by making it to the subway on time. Instead you had a man who felt like he was on fucking fire sweating on you and mumbling incoherently.

And nobody was stopping to help, nope. You were on your own unless you could think yourself out of it. Which, admittedly, you should have been able to do. You had to think on your feet for years, toeing around who you really were before you decided to come out and then trying to get out of situations your gender had gotten you into in the world you lived in.

So what would you do?

Gritting your teeth, cursing whatever God you thought wouldn’t strike you down, you did your best to lay him out on the freezing pavement as gently as you could. You were too good of a person to leave him like that - and you had already missed the train that would take you to university - so what would it hurt to try and find a phone or an address in the large, thick, leather briefcase he had dropped when he dropped onto you?

You stepped over him, collecting it and the papers that had also dropped, before you sat down next to the man’s sweaty, mumbling head. Hopefully his phone was in his case and not on his person because you’d… Well, you’d have to try and find it. The thought of doing so made your stomach churn, but you knew better than to take a stranger to the hospital. No matter how expensive people dressed or how their hair was done, some people just couldn’t afford an ambulance, let alone the medical bills in the fucking city.

Although, if you could tell someone’s financial status by looking at them, the man looked like he could afford to buy the hospital.

Luckily, though, you found the slim, black smartphone in the pocket of his briefcase, visibly sagging in relief when it had no password on it. It wasn’t smart, but dear God did it help you and the man. A thought struck you as you looked at the beach on his home screen - who would you call? Perhaps an Uber or Lyft? But where would you take him?

Certainly not to your house, and you had never used one of those apps before, so did they save your home address? You clicked open his phone and saw that he had missed six calls from someone named Liv - and all on that day. Liv would be your best bet, so you clicked on their name and steeled yourself for the phone call. The phone only rang three times before a voice came through the line, verging on yelling but not.

“Barba! Where are you? We’ve got our witness and only an hour left before he decides that work and drugs are more important. If you don’t get your ass over here we’re not going to get him to rehab in time to testify!”

Those… Everything that Liv was saying was lawyer speak, jargon you’d recognized from your gallant, but short, journey into majoring in law.  You hesitated, looking over the man’s - Barba’s - form as he struggled to breath next to you.

You swallowed thickly, “Uh, um, actually, I’m not Barba? I’m, well, I’m a stranger but your friend - or maybe co-worker - he’s, uh, sick? Like he bumped into me and now we’re just… We’re, uh, on the pavement because he’s got like a really high fever.” The phone was silent and you were afraid that Liv had hung up, “Don’t worry I’m not gonna like, hurt him or anything, but I don’t know what to do, he’s really, really sick.”

“Who are you?”

The question, and the abrasiveness of it, caught you off guard. Your voice broke as you replied with your name - only your first - and tried to backtrack, “Listen! Please, I’ll send you our location just please come get your friend!” And, in a panic, you hung up the phone before the voice could respond. Your heart was pounding as you held the phone in front of you, ignoring the calls as the poured in, the name changing every time. Liv, Sonny, Rollins, Fin, Amaro…

You did as you promised and sent Liv your location, spying an empty bench not too far away… You could make it with him if you did it fast, but you were binding…. You bit the bullet anyway, gritting your teeth as you hefted the boiling, mumbling man and his briefcase onto your person, grabbing your laptop. You let him down onto the bench, settling on the pavement in front of him. You had heard something crack when you dropped your bag - and you prayed it wasn’t your laptop. When you took it out to survey the damage your worst fear came true: your laptop was fucked.

You’d deal with that later, after you got home. You had no idea what Liv looked like, let alone how many of the other names would show up, so you had to be ready to bolt. You’d wait until they got there and take off before they could catch you, leaving them to tend to their friend or their lawyer or whatever. You’d get your wish soon enough, because a very serious woman in a very serious pantsuit came barreling toward you and the bench straight out of a squad car. She sent fear straight through your heart, and the blond man who stood from the driver’s seat - and seemed to keep standing and standing and standing - made you afraid you were going to get arrested.

Instead of hanging around you stood and disappeared into the crowd. That was one of the best advantages to being who you were - shorter than the average dude, you could become invisible at a moment’s notice. You could hear people calling for you, and the man looking for you over the crowd when you glanced over your shoulder, but you were gone before he could find you.

When you got back to your apartment, sweating and having an anxiety attack, your roommate was waiting, her sister crying into her shoulder. If you were shaking, Chyanne was vibrating. Young, only sixteen, she looked up to you with doe eyes and a wobbling lip as your roommate - Alexandra - stood and ushered you to the hall outside your room. “What are you doing home?”

You recoiled because, if only for a moment, it seemed like you were being reprimanded, “Oh, uh, I don’t know?” Your voice cracked and Alexandra seemed to be vibrating too - but with anger. “What’s wrong with Chyanne?”

“Were you at that party last weekend?”

“What?”

“That fuckin’ party with all those teenage brats and like, alcohol we both knew shouldn’t have been there but it was there anyway. I can’t remember if you were there.”

You nodded slowly, remembering how sloshed Alexandra had gotten that night, “Yeah, I was there. I crashed out halfway through the party, though. I didn’t like teenagers when I was a teenager and now I’m a grown ass man.”

“Do you remember who Chyanne was hanging out with?”

“What?”

“Who was Chyanne hanging out with?” Alexandra was holding your shoulders gazing into your eyes like they held a code and she desperately needed to get through the door, “I need you to think, okay?” A sick feeling settled in your stomach and you tried to think back to the party. It wasn’t working, your day and Alexandra’s face distracting you to the point that you were shifting uncomfortably under your friend and roommate’s gaze.

“Look, Alex, what the hell is happening?”

She was exasperated, shoving you into your room and shutting the door behind you, “Why are you so freakin’ stubborn?” Angry sighing, flailing her limbs around, “Jesus, ah, Chyanne is pregnant.” It hit you like a ton of bricks, eyebrows shooting up and disappearing into your hairline. Chyanne was young, and looked younger than she was. It was almost impossible for her to be pregnant - she was shy and easily spoken over -

“Are you sure?”

Alexandra stepped forward to slap frantically at your shoulder, gritting her teeth, “Yes, we’re sure. We just got back from the fucking doctor. I need you to remember who she was with at the party!”

“God, Alex, I’m not sure. Some fuckin’ kid with braces and like, a shaved head. I don’t know his name, he’s some high school punk that was talking to Chyanne and her friends in the kitchen. That’s the last time I was out of my room for the night. What’s so important about knowing who was with her at the party?” Alexandra’s eyes told you all you needed to know about Chyanne and the mystery boy, his child growing inside of her.

“Let’s just say I needed a witness before I could go to the police.”